Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial | George Quallo deserves a response

Published:Friday | June 16, 2017 | 6:00 AM

George Quallo's data may be in need of refinement. Nonetheless, what he has provided is sufficient to demand explanations from Chief Justice Zaila McCalla and Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

For the generation that remembers that middling period of West Indies cricket, between the late 1960s and early '70s - when the region's team was not particularly good, but not as bad as today's - Mr Quallo, the recent surprise choice as Jamaica's police chief, hints at a Charlie Davis-like figure.

Davis was a middle-order batsman from Trinidad of competent mediocrity. When the likes of Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, and Roy Fredericks were on the go, Davis was almost invisible. Larry Gomes was similar in the era of the brilliant Viv Richards, Greenidge, and Haynes.

But Davis and Gomes always seemed to score runs, especially when it mattered. Maybe the previously almost unobtrusive Mr Quallo, like those dour cricketers, will defy expectations and achieve what has eluded his seemingly more accomplished predecessors: a genuine reform of the constabulary and a sustained tamping down of violent crime.

After a bit over two months on the job, Mr Quallo gave his first press conference this week. He didn't break new ground or make grand predictions about arresting the continuing spiral in homicides that has seen killings reach more than 630, for a near 20 per cent increase in less than six months of the year.

Mr Quallo, however, seemed sure-footedly practical. He warned Jamaicans not to expect great new strategies and tactics in confronting the crisis. Rather, the police will use the existing tools with greater competence, efficiency, and professionalism.

Mr Quallo must be held to that as he sought to hold to account others in the judicial and criminal-justice systems whose performance impacts the outcomes from the efforts of the constabulary.

The police commissioner didn't call names or specifically apportion blame. He, however, noted that murder cases take an average of seven years to work their way through the courts after the police have completed their investigations, laid charges, and have witnesses ready to testify.

 

PROBLEMS CAUSED BY DELAYS

 

"If this trend continues, the 967 persons we arrested for murder last year and the 284 we arrested up to June 10 this year are not likely to face trial until 2024," he said. He argued further that these delays provide opportunities for intimidation of witnesses and disenchantment and lack of interest among complainants and victims.

As dramatic and hyperbolic as Mr Quallo's statement may seem, his assumption is not far-fetched. The statistic of a backlog of more than 400,000 cases in the court system is widely known as well as the regular factual and anecdotal accounts of cases being in the courts for a decade, or more - such as the one cited by the police chief.

Implicit in Mr Quallo's critique is an observation of and warning about the failure of the criminal-justice system as a deterrent to crime and as an enabler of impunity. The police commissioner did not elaborate on issues such as the real ratio of the cases his force actually solves as opposed to the wide-net, 'cleared-up' categorisation they now use; how long it takes to complete its investigations; the quality of the files they deliver to prosecutors; and how the police and prosecutors collaborate to make the system more efficient.

All this notwithstanding, there are matters to be addressed by Chief Justice McCalla and DPP Llewellyn in the face of Mr Quallo's unusual venture out of his crease.